Puppet Master II
They're Back. No Strings Attached.
Year of Release: 1990
Running Time: 88 minutes (1:28)
Director: David Allen
Elizabeth Maclellan ... Carolyn Bramwell / Elsa
Collin Bernsen ... Michael Kenney
Steve Welles ... Andre Toulon / Eriquee Chanee
Greg Webb ... Patrick Bramwell
Charlie Spradling ... Wanda
Jeff Celentano ... Lance
Nita Talbot ... Camille
You can't keep a good man down or a Puppet Master buried as Tunneler, Leech Woman, Pin Head and the rest of the puppets return to exhume their beloved creator in Puppet Master II, the sequel to the hit horrorfest, Puppet Master.
This time, the little devils are after the special fluid that keeps them alive, which is only found in... you guessed it... human brains. Lucky for the puppets, a new team of paranormal researchers has come to the hotel to investigate its murder-soaked past. The puppets - led by a new member, the flame-throwing Torch - are happy to shed some light on the (brain) matter, as they tunnel, burn, strangle and hook to survive.
Puppet Master II, remindin' us that toy autopsies are best left to the experts. You wanna autopsy a puppet? There ain't a poorman's Susan Sarandon in the world qualified to do it, so you'd best get Geppetto on the horn if you want it done right. Or better yet, Santa Claus. Don't just go openin' one up an start pawin' around in there when you dunno what you're lookin' for or where to look for it; this's a job for intelligent men. Course, really, when you think about it, the only thing separatin' a psycho from a coroner is a graduation certificate from The Tallman's Coronary Academy for Real Deal Gut Plumbers. An speakin' of people who're in over their heads (an I think you know exactly where said heads are currently embedded), our land use permit for the Grime Time Drive-In came in the mail last Tuesday. Rejected, of course. The enclosed letter was about five pages long without so much as a single paragraph break an read like a first grade book report on The Scarlet Letter, but I think the first line pretty well summed up the City Council's position. It said: "we as a governin' body reject this proposal on the basis that it'll defile the natural landscape and the private parts of the local youth!!" Every other sentence ended with two exclamation marks, too. Not one, not three like the rest of us; TWO. I don't trust anybody that uses two exclamation marks, cause that's a punctuational choice of somebody who has no idea how outraged they are. But anyway, I was expectin' this, bein' that the "passion pit" defense's been used since the mid 1950s. So I got my personal attorney, Cletus Rubenstein, to send those Commienist ordinance Nazis a strongly worded letter remindin' 'em that 75% of our county's population is over 40 (on account of the kids all leavin' town once they graduate or get too old an hafta leave school cause it's unfair havin' "kids" with two alimony payments playin' on the football team), an that denyin' this permit was an admission of their own generation's perversity. After that failed Cletus threatened to show up at the next council meetin' an read off a list of all the people who lost their virginity at one drive-in or another an we had our permit approved in about seven seconds. Sometimes I feel like the system really can work for the little guy, even in these days of legislative corruption.
As for the construction progress, the concession stand's up, with the deep fryer an grills all installed at a loss of only three more cousins. I'm startin' to think that the Hernandez family tree's not so much a tree, as a tumbleweed that got run over by a Caterpillar tractor, cause two of the three guys who got injured on the job only got that way by bettin' to see who could hold their hand on the grill the longest. The third guy'll be back in a coupla days. He was just used as a guinea pig to see if Juanita's cookin' was suitable for the drive-in patronage. Course, Juanita an Skunky got into it about whether or not she really needed a food handler's card since what we're gonna be servin' didn't really constitute food. Which I hadda concede was a pretty valid argument, cause no self-respectin' drive-in'd ever be servin' anything that don't take at least a coupla months off your life. This's why most drive-ins are only open on Friday an Saturday, cause you're gonna need Sunday to recuperate from the deep-fried bread an butter pickles. I've always said that if the food can't destroy the valves in a Russian submarine, it ain't fit for drive-in patrons. In any event, Skunky an I were finally able to convince Juanita to get the card after explainin' that even the cooks at The Rural Mural had 'em, an they serve magpie-kabobs. So as you can see, things're comin' along pretty good. With a little luck, we're hopin' to have our first screenins on June 17th, but it never pays to get too optimistic when Skunky's involved. Still, I'd sure appreciate it if everyone out there who's still got at least two adjacent fingers on the same hand could keep 'em crossed for us. Even if you don't wanna do it for Skunky, do it for America.
But let's not lose sight of what's really important here - the flick. Specially since Puppet Master II is one of the better ones ever to come out of Full Moon studios, back before they decided to become Troma-lite an start producin' more trash than an orgy at a Kid Rock concert. I think at this time it might be appropriate to take a moment to remember Charles Band as the man he once was, instead of the the Kickstarter funded, retro VHS forgin' whore he's become today. Amen. Fortunately we don't hafta dwell on that cause there's plenty of Empire Pictures an early '90s Full Moon features to keep us entertained for the remainder of our unbalanced existences, an just to remind everybody what kinda quality scripts Full Moon used to be capable of, here're three important lessons to take away from Puppet Master II. First, if a marionette mine shaft is bein' installed in your forehead an your reflex response is so busted that you don't react immediately to swat the offendin' temporal lobe tunneler off your face, you may have what those of us in the writer's guild refer to as "a drinking problem." I don't care if the alcohol content of those highballs was so high that they'd been passed out by college drop-outs with little wings pinned to their hooters at 37,000 feet; that's not just bein' drunk, that's a liquor coma. Second, there's a little known article of the constitution which states that the government can eminent domain any vacant property alleged to be inhabited by Egyptian voodoo puppet zombies with bad tempers, an send a buncha paranormal investigators out to it on the public's dime without so much as a spendin' bill passin' through congress. An third, wrinkly old psychics only drink tea, cause coffee throws their brainwaves into hyperdrive an jams their spiritual frequencies.
But like all the best horror flicks, mosta the time you end up with at least one question for every few bits of insight received, an my question for Puppet Master II is: who the heck opens a seaside hotel on a chunka land that's attached to the local cemetery? I realize we're in California, but even there I just dunno how many folks're gonna wanna stay at your Dead and Breakfast wonderin' if the construction company actually adjusted for the graves, or whether they just knocked over a coupla dozen tombstones an went to town like James Karen in Poltergeist. This whole setup is basically what the backyard at the Bates Motel would look like if Norman Bates was a showoff. I mean, if you're lucky, you might get one or two weirdos a month who wanna visit their dead relatives for an entire weekend knowin' they'll experience the convenience of graveside room service if they wanna have a picnic on toppa their loved ones' plots, but that's hardly sustainable. It especially don't help that you've got Buck Flower an Sage Allen livin' right down the road lookin' like the cast of Motel Hell either, cause who's gonna risk bein' turned into Hickory Farms sausage samplers just so they can tell all their friends that they "slept like the dead" at El Resort de la Muerte. I don't even wanna get into how much time the lobby staff'd hafta waste fieldin' calls regardin' false advertisin' claims from necrophiliacs. Bottom line - I'm havin' a little trouble swallowin' the luxury hotel located right next to the cemetery, that's all I'm sayin'. Other'n that, the plot seems pretty solid.
The movie begins with all the members of Andre Toulon's ten-inch tall terror cell diggin' up his purified, skank-riddled, circa 1941 corpse in the cemetery out behind the Bodega Bay Inn so they can dump a beaker fulla nuclear Mountain Dew on it an bring 'im back to life. I HATE it when companies bring dead celebrities back to life an make 'em hock cheesy merchandise in between segments of Law and Order. Angries up my blood. Anyway, the next mornin', a buncha ghost hunters (Carolyn, Patrick, Wanda an Lance) who were huntin' ghosts back before the Syfy Channel started handin' out TV shows to anybody with a camcorder, show up at the Inn to try figurin' out what drove Paul Le Mat nuts after the conclusion of the first movie. Course, that ain't no big mystery, it was bein' billed second to a buncha P.O.'d G.I. Joe action figures. So they set up their Ghost Getter 3000 surveillance system an hook it to their Amiga in case they wanna switch back an forth between the cameras an Missile Command. Meanwhile, Meg Foster's Gramma (Camille) is drivin' the Batmobile up a dirt road til she hasta stop an ask Buck Flower an his dumpy Beulah Balbricker-esque wife for directions, only Buck's too busy settin' up an electric fence defense system to keep the aliens from comin' onto his property an mutilatin' his cattle. Eventually Camille finds the hotel an spends the evenin' wavin' a wine glass around all aristocratic-like an gettin' philosophical about the nature of reality, while somebody's upstairs speakin' in tongues an shinin' a flashlight under the door. The next mornin', Patrick heads out to the cemetery to see if there're any restless spirits pacin' around impatiently waitin' for Julie Newmar to kick off, til he finds the excavated grave of Andre Toulon an starts lookin' around nervously for flyin' silver spheres. Later that night, Camille's divined that some pretty bad stuff went down in the hotel at some point, so Carolyn hasta try reassurin' 'er that just cause the last buncha investigators who showed up got turned into pie fillin' with no killer(s) ever bein' apprehended, that don't mean there's any reason to worry. Then Patrick gets sloshed on vintage wine an starts poo-pooin' Madam Camille an 'er whole Psychic Friends Network til Camille gets so P.O.'d that she hasta go talk to the spirit of Gandhi to regain 'er zen center. The next mornin', Camille sees two of the puppetrators eyeballin' 'er from behind the curtain an decides that no mystery of the cosmos is worth gettin' shivved to death by a foot high figurine an tells everybody to get the heck outta there before they're reduced to people pulp.
Course, while she's packin' up a buncha that mystical crap weirdos sell to stoned teenage girls in hippie shops, Pinhead an Jester show up an roll 'er for the butterscotch candies she's got stuck to the bottom of 'er purse an drag 'er off. While that's goin' on, Wanda's downstairs strokin' Lance's pike durin' his Big Brother reruns on the Amiga, causin' 'im to miss Tunneler sneakin' into Patrick's bedroom an proceedin' to drill like Exxon Mobil on a nature preserve. Unfortunately, by the time Lance an Wanda get to Patrick's room he's gurglin' an sputterin' like an overheated radiator, so puttin' Tunneler into the wall like Gordie Howe an smashin' 'im into pieces with a lamp isn't of much consolation. So finally Toulon shows up the next mornin' dressed like The Invisible Man while Lance's pokin' around at Tunneler's crankshafts, an he tells everybody that it's cool if they crash there until they're done fartin' around with their tinker toys, but that he'd appreciate it if they'd make a reservation next time. Then Corbin Bernsen's brother (Michael) drops by lookin' for his mama (Camille) cause he's checked every Gypsy pawn shop between here an Terre Haute, Indiana an he can't seem to get a bead on 'er. Carolyn invites 'im in to stay the night since he's ruggedly handsome an she's too awkward to pick up a guy at the bar like a regular woman. By now, the hotel's gettin' way too crowded, so Blade an Leech Woman head over to Buck Flower's place an carve up his forehead to get at some spare parts that he really wasn't usin' much anyhow. Course, his Beulah Balbricker lookin' wife is none too pleased when she realizes she's gonna hafta start gettin' up even earlier to slop the pigs, so she grabs a skillet an busts Leech Woman right in 'er Malibu Barbie brain housin' like Baby Sinclair an stuffs 'er into the potbelly stove like a German preteen in a fairy tale. Then this new guy wearin' a Darth Vader helmet an a blow torch for an arm saunters in an... well, let's just say that once he gets done with 'er, the nation's pork futures end up plummetin' faster'n a washin' machine off the Empire State Building. So now, havin' vanquished the two denizens of the local bumpkin patch, the puppets head back to Toulon's room to relinquish their burnt offerings, only Toulon don't want 'em cause the immortality recipe specifically calls for Original an forbids the use of Extra Crispy. Then he starts flashin' back to 1912 where he's warmin' up the crowd at an Egyptian Sizzler doin' a puppet show, only Obi-Wan Kenobi wanders in from the desert an makes Bela Lugosi eyes at the stage til Toulon's headliners ignite like a cheap hotdog at a Memorial Day barbecue. He does this cause Toulon's show is so bad that people're startin' to drive 2 hours outta their way just to go to the Logan's Roadhouse in Alexandria, an he thinks this way Toulon'll be more receptive to a more efficient means of puppeteerin'.
But anyway, the next mornin', Michael an Carolyn head into town to check out the Free Spirit in the Sky Pot Dispensary an see if anyone's seen Camille. Elsewhere, some sadistic Billy Mumy child out on a campin' trip is whippin' his action figure like an angst-ridden Indiana Jones. Cept about that time Torch happens by, an when the kid starts jackin' him around an screwin' with his threads he gets pretty P.O.'d an tosses some veal on the barbie. Fortunately, the puppets've finally scooped up enough brain goo to brew a fresh batch of Re-Animator juice, only Toulon thinks Carolyn's the reincarnation of his dead wife, so now he's too busy to start cookin' up a fresh batch cause he's gotta stop everything to gloat at all the dead Nazi soldiers who killed 'er 50 years ago. So later that night, after Toulon butts in on Carolyn an Michael's 1800s ball room dancin' session an nearly rug burns 'er to death with all his Imhotep bandages, Carolyn decides she wants to go paw around in Toulon's room to see what other famous monsters he's keepin' in there, but Michael thinks that's way too dangerous an hasta distract 'er with a sex act that lasts about as long as a drive-thru order box conversation. This's in stark violation of the first rule of horror movies, which states that "thou shalt not diddle before it drags in the middle." Case in point, Wanda an Lance've just left the makins of a future Salvation Army mattress stain in their own bed, an in less time than the total duration of their alleged sex, Wanda's legs ain't the only things that've been divided an conquered. Blade don't make the rules, he's just here to slice into people's foreheads when they break 'em. Domo arigato, Mr. Loboto. Meanwhile, Carolyn's wandered off to find somethin' phallic that she can use to finish the job, only she just happens to look out the window an spot Toulon out by the beach watchin' Chris Isaac film the Wicked Game video an ends up makin' like Gladys Kravitz upstairs in Toulon's closet. Inside this closet are a coupla mannequins wearin' more skin bronzer than the door greeter at Caesar's Palace, but pretty quick Toulon heads back to his room an takes 'er hostage while Torch's downstairs tryin' to roast Michael's chestnuts on an open fire. Think I'm gonna cut it off here, cause that sneaky Toulon's up to somethin' an I don't wanna spoil what that might be, or what might happen when his lil friends get a whiff of his deceit.
Alright, Puppet Master II. A worthy successor to the original classic, made way back in the days before Charles Band took up the life of a street beggar with access to GoFundMe. I don't wanna sound ungrateful or nothin', but I wouldn't trust that guy as far as Woody Allen could throw the Sears Tower. Regardless, Puppet Master II is considered by many to be the best in the series, even though the IMDB and I would both give that honor to Part III. Just goes to show how wrong all you guys have to be to get me and the IMDB on the same page. That said, I still like Part II quite a bit, even though I think the original was the better movie. It's one of those situations where I *like* Part II better than the original, even though the first movie was better on a technical level. I just feel like the original was more polished and had better direction, because even though David Allen was one of the greatest special effects guys in movie history, that didn't necessary make him qualified to direct. On the other hand, Part II has a script that focuses more on Toulon and the puppets, where the original was primarily following the exploits of the investigators, and I find that the approach taken in this sequel makes for a more entertaining movie. It's actually kinda similar to the production shift between the original Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2, because once you've got your antagonist(s) established, the series has to change gears entirely to focus on them. After all, it's a horror flick, and that's who the people are there to see. Another bright spot for Part II is, of course, the introduction of the new puppet, Torch, who's probably my favorite of the bunch. Torch doesn't get nearly enough screen time in the later sequels, primarily due to the difficulty involved in getting that flame throwin' arm of his to function properly, and safely, during a film's production. I haven't seen any of the Puppet Master flicks since Retro, but I'd imagine that if Torch shows up in any of them his signature talent is probably carried out via CGI, and that said scenes probably rival Syfy original computer effects. I'd rather not think about it, honestly. Torch wouldn't return to the series (despite appearing on the cover of Part 4) until Puppet Master 5, which is just one example of some of the worst continuity in any horror series. Truth be told, there's not a single sequel that gets its dates, history, or cast of puppets correct after the original lays the ground work. However, that fact doesn't become glaringly obvious until Part III, which is a prequel that introduces another new puppet (Six Shooter) that does not appear in the first movie. One could also argue that, plot wise, it doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense for Andre Toulon to use what little animation fluid he's got on a new puppet when he can't keep his principal cast runnin' smoothly, but if that's the biggest problem you can find in the writing, it's safe to assume that the script is more or less sound.
Anywho, it's time to barbecue this sucker and find out if there's a succulent steak lurkin' underneath its charred exterior, or whether it's inedible as a McDonald's french fry that managed to escape the deep fryer scoop all day. The plot, while a little less focused than the first movie, is decidedly more interesting. I think that focusing on Toulon and the puppets not only helps with the pacing, but also paves the way for the brief flashback sequences that detail a bit of Toulon's backstory, and how he came into possession of the secret that animates the puppets. Course, it also paves the way for a whole bunch of white guys to portray Egyptians, but at least we're getting more details to go with what little came to light near the climax of the first movie. The acting, however, is one area where there's a noticeable drop off in quality. It's not bad, per se, but it's definitely more amateurish than what we saw in the first movie, both in terms of the protagonists and the antagonist. Most of the principals in the cast went on to have careers of 20 - 30 gigs, which tended to end abruptly. Still, there's only a coupla scenes that require the stifling of laughter, and the movie does at least feature Buck Flower in a bit part. I always have to mention Buck, cause the guy's one of my favorite character actors of all time and I don't feel like he gets nearly the credit he deserves.
Anyway, here's who matters and why: Elizabeth Maclellan (Crash and Burn), Collin Bernsen (Future Shock), Steve Welles (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Solar Crisis, Biohazard), Greg Webb (Lifeform), Charlie Spradling (To Sleep With a Vampire, Bad Channels, Mirror Mirror, The Blob 1988), Jeff Calentano (Oblivion II, Demonic Toys, Journey to the Center of the Earth 1988, Alien from L.A.), Nita Talbot (Amityville: It's About Time, Frightmare, Island Claws), Sage Allen (Armageddon), Buck Flower (Back to the Future 1 & 2, They Live, The Fog, They Are Among Us, The Curse of the Komodo, Moonbase, Wishmaster, Bloodsuckers, Dark Breed, Village of the Damned 1995, Ripper Man, Circuitry Man II, Skeeter, Warlock: The Armageddon, Body Bags, Waxwork II, 976-EVIL II, Camp Fear, Speak of the Devil, Dragonfight, Blood Games, Berserker, Dead Men Don't Die, Spontaneous Combustion, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Death Nurse 2, The American Scream, Mac and Me, Bloody Pom Poms, Pumpkinhead, Maniac Cop, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Bates Motel 1987, Drive-In Massacre, The Night Stalker, Starman, The Capture of Bigfoot, The Time Machine 1978, Killer's Delight, The Alpha Incident, Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Criminally Insane), Sean Ryan (In the Mouth of Madness, Returner, Scar, City Limits), Ivan J. Rado (Mac and Me, Subspecies, Santo vs. Blue Demon in Atlantis, Blue Demon destructor de espias), Michael Todd (Stop It You're Killing Me, The Dead Next Door, Lurking Fear, Robot Ninja), Alex Band (Doctor Mordrid).
The special effects aren't terrible, but they seem a little more subdued than the effects in the original. It gets off to a pretty bad start in the opening sequence where Toulon's corpse rises from the grave and you can see multiple wires holding the two arms together, but the shot is at least brief. Additionally, there's no burpin' up of blood suckers by Leech Woman, and it just seems like a lot more happens off camera than in the original movie. The aftermath of the Tunneler kill is pretty good, although again, it's not up to par with the mouth drilling in the first movie. All that said, this one does feature a pretty good scene with a fire suit that comes off more convincing than most, because the actress being burned alive is already really heavy set. This means that the bulky suit doesn't make it obvious that it's really a stunt person with a different build being set on fire. And of course, it wouldn't be a David Allen flick without some stop motion animation. All of which is about as good as can be expected, as stop motion goes. There's one more effect that I'm not going to mention because it happens after I cut off the summary, but good grief is it terrible. Superimposition shot that looks like something out of the late '60s. Just awful. The shooting locations are pretty good, even if it really doesn't make sense for there to be a cemetery next to the hotel. But the hotel itself is a good location, and good enough that you tend to overlook that little discrepancy. It's not actually the same building used in the first movie, but I didn't really notice the difference until I looked it up and started thinking about it. Essentially, the exterior shots, which are of the original building, do an adequate job of making you believe it's the same place. It's really just the bottom floors of each location that are markedly different from each other, as the upper floors were both filmed in apartment complexes. Cemetery's pretty decent too, small as it is. The soundtrack, well, it's the exact same soundtrack used in the first movie. So what that means is it's one of the best scores in horror movie history, composed by the great Richard Band. Richard's got a hell of a list of credits from his days with Full Moon and Empire Pictures, and I feel like he's another one of those guys who doesn't get the kinda credit he should. It'd be pretty easy to screw up a movie about killer toys with a hokey soundtrack, but Richard's scores are not only hauntingly beautiful, but also extremely catchy. A perfect 10/10 on the soundtrack, even if it is the exact same music from the original Puppet Master. Overall, Puppet Master II, while less impressive technically, is more fun than the original, and for that reason I'm going to give it the exact same percentage as its predecessor. So, if you liked the first one, be sure to check out this first sequel as well, as it's equally enjoyable.